Considering Class: College Access and Diversity

49 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2012 Last revised: 26 Apr 2013

See all articles by Matthew Gaertner

Matthew Gaertner

Center for College and Career Success

Melissa Hart

University of Colorado Law School

Date Written: August 27, 2012


Each time that the continued legality of race-conscious affirmative action is threatened, colleges and universities must confront the possibility of dramatically changing their admissions policies. Fisher v. University of Texas, which the Supreme Court will hear this year, presents just such a moment. In previous years when affirmative action has been outlawed by ballot initiative in specific states or when the Court has seemed poised to reject it entirely, there have been calls for replacing race-conscious admissions with class-based affirmative action. Supporters of race-conscious affirmative action have typically criticized the class-based alternative as ineffective at maintaining racial diversity. This article presents the results of a study conducted at the University of Colorado in 2008 and 2010 that challenges that common assertion. We present a class-based affirmative action policy that led to increased socioeconomic diversity as well as slightly increased racial diversity in two entering freshmen classes. This study, the first done at a moderately selective university, shows how class-based affirmative action can be an effective tool for admitting a class of students that is diverse both socioeconomically and racially. Even if the Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of race-conscious college admissions, class-based policies are attractive as a supplement to race-conscious policies. The challenges associated with low socioeconomic status are different from those associated with minority status, and there are good reasons to seek equal opportunity along both lines.

Keywords: affirmative action, class-based affirmative action, empirical research, socioeconomic diversity, diversity, college admissions

JEL Classification: C93, I28, I32, K10, K39

Suggested Citation

Gaertner, Matthew and Hart, Melissa, Considering Class: College Access and Diversity (August 27, 2012). U of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12-18, Available at SSRN: or

Matthew Gaertner

Center for College and Career Success

United States

Melissa Hart (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School ( email )

401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States
303-735-6344 (Phone)

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